Septic System Inspections: What You Need to Know

Every year, millions of homes change ownership. Some of these homes, especially in rural areas, are not connected to the municipal sewage system but have an onsite wastewater treatment or septic system. Many buyers of such homes are new to the septic tank system. They might be unaware of law requirements on septic systems, including inspections on the transfer of ownership.

Arizona law requires a septic system inspection when selling a house with a septic tank system. A certified and licensed transfer of ownership inspector does the inspection. Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) licenses the inspectors in Arizona. However, a septic inspector can be licensed across several states.

The idea of inspection might seem bothersome for buyers or homeowners who have never encountered a septic system. However, ensuring you are getting a properly functioning septic system is essential.

How Does a Septic System Work?

Knowing what a septic system is and how it works or functions is critical to understand why septic inspection is essential. A septic system is a home plumbing system that collects, treats, and disposes wastewater. A septic system usually consists of a septic tank, a drain field, and a distribution box.

The septic system functions by separating the wastewater that enters the septic tank upon leaving the house into solids, floatable materials, and liquid waste. While the solids or sludge naturally settle at the bottom of the tank, the scum or floatable material settles at the top. The septic tank regularly discharges the liquid waste or effluent into a drain field through perforated pipes.

While the liquid waste in the drain field goes through a natural filtration process and eventually renters the groundwater, a homeowner has to pump out the floatable material and the solid waste periodically. In a properly functioning septic system, scum and sludge should never enter the drain field. Regular septic inspection help ensure that does not happen.

Why is Inspection Important

With only around a fifth of American homes having an onsite wastewater treatment system, mostly in rural areas, a septic inspection is foreign to many home buyers. If the idea of a septic system is new to you, you may wonder what septic inspection is and why it is important or even a law requirement.

A septic inspection is an exercise to examine if a building’s septic system is working correctly. A septic inspection is essential as it helps detect any septic issues before they become a health hazard or damage your plumbing system. First, septic issues like leaks or wastewater backing up into your pipes can make you or your family sick.

Typically, you do not want wastewater contaminating water in the kitchen or bathroom sinks, on the bathroom floor, or backing up into the toilet. Second, since the septic tank is underground, it may be hard to detect malfunctions or damage without an inspection. An inspection that detects broken or blocked pipes can save you thousands of dollars in repair or replacement costs.

As a prospective home buyer, you should insist on a septic inspection before you purchase a home to avoid future issues. However, even as a homeowner, you should do regular septic inspections, preferably once a year, to ensure your system is functioning properly.

How Is A Septic Inspection Done?

Most septic inspectors start with a pre-inspection routine or visual inspection that involves running faucets and flushing toilets to see if they are functioning correctly. For instance, they might pick some drainage issues as part of pre-inspection, including slow-draining sinks. Visual inspection may also involve checking the age of the system and other maintenance details.

However, a full septic system inspection involves several standard steps, including:

  • locating the septic tank and the drain field area
  • digging and removing the septic tank covers
  • inspecting inside the tank, including the inlet, outlet, and partition wall
  • locating the pump and float, if necessary
  • inspection and cleaning of filter, if necessary
  • examining the sludge and scum levels
  • septic tank pumping
  • inspecting water flow in the septic system with running faucets
  • inspecting effluent waste levels in the drain field area

As part of the septic inspection, the inspector must complete an ADEQ inspection report and other paperwork, including the septic tank location map.

Locating the Septic Tank System

While locating the septic tank is one of the significant septic inspection steps, it can sometimes be complicated. Essentially, the septic system is hidden underground, and a homeowner may not know its exact location. However, there are several methods an inspector can use to locate the septic system if the homeowner is unsure of its location, including:

  • checking with the local zoning and health agencies for the initial design or drawing of the house, which is likely to include the tank’s location
  • contacting the previous homeowner
  • using a metal rod to investigate a suspected area in the yard
  • using a metal detector to check for likely metallic septic tank components
  • using other technology, including flushing a small radio transmitter down the toilet and following it with a receiver

Even though these are not guaranteed location methods, they are often helpful.

The Cost of Septic Inspection in Arizona

According to Arizona laws, the seller or homeowner should request and pay for septic system inspection services in a home transfer transaction. The inspection should be completed six months before the property transfer date. However, in some cases like when a home that ends up in foreclosure, the buyer can request for the inspection services.

The law requires a seller/homeowner to provide a buyer with a complete ADEQ inspection report and other related paperwork. However, the buyer must file a completed Notice of Transfer within 15 days of buying the property.

While the total cost of a septic inspection will vary depending on several factors, including the size of the septic tank, the average inspection cost in Arizona is around $250 to over $1,000. However, your location may also affect the price, with inspection costing more in some areas than others.

Contact a Tucson Septic Inspector

A septic system is among the most important and expensive home plumbing features. It should be adequately maintained and inspected to ensure it is functioning correctly. Whether you need inspection as part of septic maintenance or are about to sell your house, you can rely on our ADEQ-licensed septic inspectors at Curtis Plumbing. Contact us today to schedule an inspection appointment and learn more about our plumbing services.